I found, quite by accident, a very nice article on IMP Foods (San Mateo, CA). As you might recall, I wrote about them a few weeks ago. Glenn Sakata is the GM at IMP Foods. According to Sakata, handling sushi- or sashimi-grade fish "requires manpower, expensive equipment, an efficient delivery system, discipline, knowledge, experience, dedication and beyond." Oooo.
IMP is a sister company of Japanese-owned seafood wholesaler International Marine Products in Los Angeles. It does $20 million in sales annually and is primary source for seafood for about 75 percent of the Bay Areas sushi bars including Ebisu in San Francisco, Kirala in Berkeley, Chaya in San Francisco, Seto Tempura in Sunnyvale and Akane in Los Altos. You can't buy directly from them, though you can purchase fish from them indirectly at Mitsuwa in San Jose, Nijiya in Mountain View, Suruki in San Mateo and Tokyo Fish in Berkeley.
Many companies say all sushi-grade fish is the same quality, but Sakata disagrees. When a fish arrives at IMP, a thermometer is used to check its temperature. For most fish, the temperature should register 37 degrees, just above freezing and below the level that promotes the growth of toxins and pathogens, Sakata says. The tail meat is cut to check color, and a long probe is stuck into the body to extract a cross-section to determine texture and fat content.As Sonja had conjectured, indeed, there are different grades of sushi-grade fish. At IMP, seafood is either sushi-grade No. 1 (excellent) or sushi-grade No. 2 (good) and No. 2 is sent back to the supplier. (Wait a second, how does this work?)
This is a facinating piece, you'll just have to read the rest of it. There is a lot of good stuff. I'll close with something interesting though:
Diners and consumers should be aware that there are no state or federal regulations regarding what can be called sushi grade. That determination is made by individual seafood dealers based on subjective assessments of factors such as texture, fat content and color. As a result, fish that one dealer may label as sushi grade another might dismiss as sub-par.
With sushi-grade, you are dealing with both sensory and safety issues, says Michael Hernandez, chief of the seafood safety program for the food and drug branch of the California Department of Health Services. Its the smell, the color, the taste, as well as safety considerations with parasites and toxins.
With regard to food safety, California seafood processors and dealers are required to assess their product and develop plans to ensure the fish is safe to eat raw, using guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But because those plans are tailored to each dealer and are different for various types of fish, safety plans can vary widely.
For instance, FDA guidelines recommend that all fish to be eaten raw, other than tuna, first be frozen to kill parasites. But California regulations require freezing only if parasites are found. (Tuna is exempt because its not prone to parasites.)
In the United States, human parasitic infections from seafood are rare, according to the National Academy of Sciences. In California, incidents of illness from parasites, toxins or bacteria from raw fish also are uncommon, Hernandez says. Still, because few foods have zero risk, he adds, consumers who plan to eat raw seafood should patronize reputable seafood stores and restaurants that turn over seafood stock frequently.
Sushi-grade fish in the Bay Area, as well as many other parts of the country, comes from IMP Foods, Inc. Their motto is "directly from the Sea and as fresh as possible". Join them for the "Win Win"! (Is that Japanese for something tasty?)
Check it out, wasabi! (Which reminds me of a great joke, what did sushi A say to sushi B?)
Yes, they sell fertile eggs. Sonja says, "Why don't you try sitting on them?" Hmmm, intriguing.